Accused Nazi guard faces deportation to Germany
On Monday, a US judge ruled John Demjanjuk is healthy enough to face trial in Germany. He’s accused of complicity in the deaths of 30,000 Jews and gypsies.
John Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker living in Cleveland, faces deportation to Germany Wednesday to answer to war crimes charges that as a guard at a World War II Nazi extermination camp he had a hand in the deaths of nearly 30,000 Jews and gypsies.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In this country of long memories and an ongoing determination to face up to the legacy of its Nazi past, even 60 years on, cases such as Demjanjuk's rarely raise questions here about whether too much time has elapsed to prosecute old crimes.
"If Mr. Demjanjuk is too ill to stand trial, that is one thing, and for others to decide," says Peter Graumann, the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. "Apart from that, I think it's very important to try him as a signal and a sign of justice being done at last – that there is no time limit to justice."
The fate of Mr. Demjanjuk edged closer to a German trial Monday when US Immigration Judge Wayne Iskra reversed his own ruling from three days before that had stayed Demjanjuk's deportation on grounds of poor health.
Due to his illnesses, Demjanjuk's family maintains a forced trip to Germany and subsequent trial would amount to inhumane torture, something the Justice Department denies.
Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, moved to the US in 1952 and gained citizenship in 1958. He has maintained his innocence, and his family vowed to appeal his deportation on health and humanitarian grounds Tuesday.
German authorities say they have extensive evidence – the most damning being a Schutzstaffel (SS) identification card – that implicates him and proves he was a guard at the Sobibor death camp in southern Poland who personally walked thousands of people to their demise in gas chambers.
The Ludwigsburg Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in southern Germany built the case against Demjanjuk. A spokesman for its director, Kurt Schrimm, declined to comment on today's developments, saying the case had been handed over to prosecutors in Munich, where Demjanjuk would stand trial upon arriving in Germany.
In recent days, the German news media have focused on the idea that if Demjanjuk stood trial here, it likely would be the last such trial linked to the Nazi era. In all, some 6,500 Nazi war criminals have been brought to justice in Germany since the end of World War II, about 1,200 of whom were accused of murder.